# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Jackie Leven - Shining Brother / Shining Sister

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 8 / 5 / 2003

Jackie Leven - Shining Brother / Shining Sister
Label: Cooking Vinyl
Format: CD


Eclectic 8th solo album from former Doll by Doll frontman, Jackie Leven, which finds him taking in elements of hip hop , waltz and poetry

The former Doll By Doll frontman’s 8th solo album for Cooking Vinyl finds him taking in elements of hip hop and waltz making it his strongest album since 1998’s ‘Night Lilies’. ‘Defending Ancient Springs’ from 2000 and 2001’s ‘Creatures Of Light And Darkness’ both had classic Leven songs scattered throughout but couldn’t top the eleven excellent tracks Leven put together for ‘Night Lilies’. But it would seem that Leven is back on form here as all twelve tracks making up ‘Shining Brother Shining Sister’ have Leven’s soulful, unique vocals present and correct (except obviously for the trumpet elegy which prefaces ‘Savannah Waltz’) married to his beautiful melodies making this a contender for Leven’s best album yet. Part of this is due to the different elements Leven has introduced to his music this time around. Lifting portions of other songs and placing them in his own is nothing new with Leven. We had Avril Jamieson singing lines from ‘Unchained Melody’ like an angel on ‘Fear Of Women’ from 1997’s ‘Fairy Tales For Hard Men’ for example. On the opening track here, the eight minute ‘Classic Northern Diversions’, we have Leven himself intoning the title of Big Joe Williams’ ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ before American poet Robert Bly recites part of a medieval French prayer at the end of the song. The main song itself is pure Leven, and has strong vocals (I’m going to give up trying to explain Leven’s vocals, soulful doesn’t seem to do the unique sound he has justice), insightful lyrics (“it took me fifty long years just to work out, that because I was angry didn’t mean I was right”), and a typical Leven melody; which, while uneasy at times, isalways coloured with beauty. Geoffrey Burgon (who wrote the music for 'Brideshead Revisited' as well as for other television series) plays the trumpet elegy that precedes the song ‘Savannah Waltz’. We’re treated to Leven’s explanation in the sleeve notes of the story behind the song. It’s always a pleasure to read Leven’s notes which add a nice insight for the listener into the origins of the song. Like ‘Night Lilies’ it is difficult to focus on just one track here as the best on the album. They are all excellent but a couple just marginally have the edge. At times ‘My Philosophy’ sounds like it is the best track on the album. With the ever present Deborah Greenwood adding her usual excellent background vocals (am I the only one who longs to hear a solo album by this talented singer?) and Leven’s dark-brown vocals conjuring up visions of his lyrics “and in april-time when the bluebells come to country lanes that I have known” this song has everything that makes Leven so special. It ends with Ron Sexsmith reciting a poem by e e cummings, one of the touches Leven has used to great effect throughout this album. Then just when you think it can’t get any better it does. The following track, ‘Another Man In The Old Arcade’, has to be one of the best songs Leven has ever recorded. Again, it's Leven’s emotive vocals coupled with some excellent guitar picking out a stunning melody, which make the song something special. These are long songs, a number of them go well over 5 minutes, and the fact that they still hold the listeners attention over this time in these days when it is so easy to skip through tracks, only goes to show that Leven has produced an album which makes for compelling listening. ‘A Little Voice In Space’ lasts for nearly 10 minutes, the first 8 minutes being the song before the track ends with Leven this time reciting a poem by Osip Mandelstam and not once does the listeners attention wander, it’s such a strong song. Another of Leven’s tales appears in the sleeve notes concerning the origins of the track ‘ Heroin Dealer Blues’. It’s a particularly affecting song especially coming from Leven and a warning without the usual preaching. Leven sounds so weary as he sings of the dealer who “died as he lived, and he lived in vein”. David Thomas (Pere Ubu) has been featured on previous Leven albums, but here he takes on a spoken word track written by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s a short horror story; quite breathtaking and unexpected yet fits in well with the rest of the album. A stroke of genius. Before the album close with 2 poems set to music and sung by Leven (Edith Sitwell’s ‘Bells Of Grey Crystal’ and Ciaron Carson’s ‘1798’) we are treated to ‘Tied-Up House’, basically just Leven’s vocals echoing all over the song accompanied by acoustic guitar. Simple but so effective. Leven’s best album to date? I’d say so and I’d thought he had reached his peak with ‘Night Lilies’.

Track Listing:-
1 Classic Northern Diversions
2 Irresistible Romance
3 Dust Elegy
4 Savannah Waltz
5 My Philosophy
6 Another Man in the Old Arcade
7 A Little Voice in Space
8 Heroin Dealer Blues
9 Faces
10 Tied-Up House
11 Bells of Grey Crystal
12 1798

Label Links:-

Post A Comment

your name
ie London, UK
Check box to submit


Interview (2011)
Singer-songwriter Jackie Leven speaks to Ben Howarth about his new album, 'Wayside Shrines and the Code of the Travelling Man', a collaboration with his regular keyboardist Michael Cosgrave, which was written in a set of German hotel rooms


1950-2011 (2011)
Ben Howarth and his brother Charles pay tribute to Scottish singer-songwriter Jackie Leven, who died in November

live reviews

Green Note, London 28/5/2008
Jackie Leven - Green Note, London  28/5/2008
At the tiny Green Cafe in London, Ben Howarth sees former Doll by Doll front man and still under-rated singer-songwriter Jackie Leven play an intimate, but typically charismatic set

digital downloads


Great Songs From Eternal Bars (2001)
Former frontman of the early eighties rock band Doll By Doll, Scottish singer/guitarist Jackie Leven has developed into one of our greatest songwriters and storytellers. There are few artists who just

most viewed articles

most viewed reviews

Pennyblackmusic Regular Contributors